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April 13, 2021

About Brexit and Illiberalism

A twitter post and the corresponding comments open a perspective on today’s Europe and on the dangers that ambush it and warn us, especially regarding the future of the democracy on the continent. We are far now from the immediate post-Cold-War period, when one of the theorists of the international relations who was en vogue at that time, F. Fukuyama, assumed that “the end of the history” already happened, in other words liberalism has won all over, therefore what we have to do is to wait this thing to inexorably happen and to enjoy its fruits.  We are so far from that period when the revolutionary trend coming from the communist Eastern Europe broke the totalitarianism and the regime of a single political party, accompanied by the economic centralism making a “free and united” community under the folds of the triumphant democracy.

We could even say that today we are at the opposite side of those expectations, that historical trends have unexpected developments, that the liberal democracy is under the assault of some alternatives who were tested in other places, so it has to defend by mobilizing itself and dynamically reacting. The twitter in question belongs to an exceptional commentator of the international context and is related to Brexit, namely to the referendum to be held in UK no longer than one week from now (on June 23), about leaving or staying in EU.

Anne Applebaum, because she is the said commentator, wrote on her Twitter account on June 7, that “1. A month ago, I heard a woman at a London dinner say to all, ‘your pro-EU arguments are all rational. But my heart says to vote Brexit” and “2. This is when I knew the Remain campaign was in trouble: irrational emotion is sweeping every democracy, so why not Britain too”. Applebaum obviously expresses a moderate optimism towards the chances of the “remain” group, which actually goes shoulder to shoulder with the opposite group in the recent surveys. What draws attention more, is the mention of the perfidious opponent of the democracy, in the author’s note “irrational emotion”, in the circumstances of implementing one of the most democratic procedures – the referendum – in order to decide the future of a community.

Comments made on these notes observe what can be called a contradiction of the democratic development of the whole EU, which was underlined especially in the recent period. As a replying twitter immediately showed, referring to the referendum held on April 6 in Netherlands on the approval of the agreement for Ukraine’s association to EU, which established the victory of “no”: “nail on head. During Ukraine ref.  here in NL many ‘no’ voters had no real objections but felt ‘angry’ + wished to vent it.” Moreover, a commentator sees the perspective of a disappointment owed exactly to this irrationality which motivates the vote of some of the actors of the democracy: “can see the day after. I didn’t vote for THAT. Why didn’t anyone tell me”. Instead, other commentators go to the essence of the problem, some of them rejecting the proportion of the vote’s irrationality: “irrational is an unfair term. Wanting self determination is not irrational may be economically illiterate but different issue”, or “Quite an arrogant thing to say. There ‘is’ rational case for exit, based on word you used: democracy. LSE/ London School  of  Economics / -birthplace of Brexit”; others identify a motivation of the expressed vote which is not irrational at all: “When the system screws people over on such a scale, their anger is justified. Fix it or face their wrath for years to come”; or “The Great Collapse of 2008 wasn’t a natural disaster. It was caused by the elites’ stupidity and recklessness.” or “Nor is there anything irrational about people’s disgust & anger for a system that failed to punish those responsible for 2008”.

Of course, we can distinguish adepts of both of the confronting groups – the “remain” ones often invoking the fear towards the unknown caused by “leave”:  “Honestly, I find the opposite to be true. The remain side focuses on scare mongering and is grounded in lofty ideals.” But the comments approach a feature that must not be neglected within the debate on the future of the democracy, namely the random dimension of the superiority of participatory democracy towards the representative democracy, especially in the circumstances of the unique impact of the information technologies, of the amazing ascension of the social and communication networks. Governed by impulses and motivated by impressions or by contagion of opinions, direct democracy is not a deepening of the consultative process (regarding the adepts of the “irrational emotion” existing in this democratic procedure), but a harmful absence of the negotiation and compromise. On the same twitter account, a note posted in the same time (June 8) impels her followers to read an analysis called Poland’s New Majoritarians, signed by Henry Foy, correspondent for Central Europe of the British newspaper “Financial Times”, published in the last edition of “The American Interest” review. The analysis has a relevant subtitle: „Europe’s illiberal democracies have gained a new member, and the world has taken notice”.

The article, well documented and convincing, notes the motivation and the steps of the democratic sideslip registered by Poland after the last legislative elections in October 2015, when the power has been taken by “Law and Justice Party”, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Focused on the opinion that, by taking the power, Law and Justice Party has the right to implement its own doctrine, the party invoked (as the author of the analysis says) diseases of the Polish society – “a new mixture of cultures and races, a world made up of cyclists and vegetarians, who only use renewable energy and who battle all signs of religion.”, stated one of the dignitaries of the new leading elite – which are opposite to „what moves most Poles [is] tradition, historical awareness, love of country, faith in God, and normal family life between a woman and a man”, as he adds.

By rejecting the liberal political center, the new power, led from the shadow by the chief of the party, it implements a program which could be synthetically defined as the re-legitimating the Poland of the Polish people, the rejection of the foreign interference (European Commission or multinational companies which massively invested  in this country multiplying its GDP several times in a decade), being conservator from the social point of view, relying on the Catholic Church’s influence, aiming to reduce inequity by generous public aids grounded on the taxation of the multinational companies within the national economy, the new installed power wants to turn the clock back, according to the analysis. But where? The study mentioned in a few words here appreciates that the target is the „political formula that happens to resemble that of most interwar era East-Central European regimes: a paternalist and populist form of corporate nationalism”, a “brand of illiberal, reactionary rule to the largest country in Eastern Europe”.  Poland is not the only EU country trapped into this illiberal heading with interwar tones, argues the author. The former American President Bill Clinton appreciated in May this year, that “Poland and Hungary, two countries that would not have been free but for the United States and the long Cold War, have now decided this democracy is too much trouble. . . . They want Putin-like leadership: just give me an authoritarian dictatorship and keep the foreigners out.” Of course, the previous characterization is probably exaggerated, since Warsaw’s position, grounded on historical reasons, towards any political import coming from its East vicinity, traditionally deemed to be an existential threat,  is well-known.

Despite the fact that the new power at Warsaw was widely criticized from outside – Brussels and Washington -, but also by a wide range of critics from inside (in front of whom it had to give up recently, related to the law on the abortion’s forbiddance), it keeps it’s percentage of trust within the ensemble of the voting people (around 40 percent). Will the voters’ trust strength the conviction of the new leadership at Warsaw that the promoted politics is the kind of the illiberal democracy which Poland need, now and in the future? The answer to this question is extremely important, because there’s a regional contagion in the Easter Europe, expressed not only geopolitically and constantly stated this way in the last century, but also in the internal structures, as in the prewar period.


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